This week, Conway Farms Golf Club, a private course in the northern suburbs of Chicago, will play host to the third leg of the FedEx Cup Playoffs, the BMW Championship. Although the expansive facility – all 209 acres of it – was only opened in 1991, it has already become somewhat of a haven for amateur competition. Among several other events, it has hosted the NCAA Men’s Division I Championship in 1997, the Big Ten golf championship in 2006, and most recently the U.S. Mid-Amateur last year.
However, it is due in large part to the efforts of Luke Donald that Conway Farms hosts its first professional event this week. A graduate of nearby Northwestern University, Donald played the course frequently as Northwestern’s home, and is now a member of the invitation-only club. When the PGA Tour was seeking out a location for this particular tournament, Donald was only too eager to share his thoughts.
“I certainly talked with the Tour leading up to this event, and they wanted their opinions on some courses around here, and I tried to steer them towards this course,” Donald told USA TODAY during a Tuesday practice session.
“Obviously selfishly because I know it very well, and I think it’s a good place to have a tournament. […] I have a little bit of advantage, having played this course many times, but hopefully that advantage will be more on the greens. That’s what I’ll need to do this week is be successful on the greens.”
The question, of course, is how much of an advantage will it give him, and will it be enough?
Donald enters the BMW Championship ranked just 54th in the FedEx Cup points race. With only the top 30 moving on to the Tour Championship at East Lake, he’ll need a top-ten, perhaps even a top-five finish to continue his chase for the title. Although he has four top-tens in 2013, including a tie for eighth at the U.S. Open in June, he also missed three cuts in his last six events, and has finished 41st in both the Barclays and the Deutsche Bank Championship.
On the plus side, Donald is a former world No. 1 who has had a tremendous amount of success in the past, even holding the course record of 61 at Conway Farms. He ranks seventh on Tour this season in total putting and eighth in strokes gained-putting, so when he talks about having an advantage on the greens, perhaps that will be enough to keep him alive. A hot putter can make up for just about any other flaws in a golfer’s game, and that will be the key to watch this week.
There’s certainly a big hill to climb for Donald this week, but players have clawed their way out of dire situations each of the last two weeks of the playoffs. Sometimes, a little bit of home is all you need.